By Alyssa Gregory

A List of Realistic Email Management Strategies That Just May Work

By Alyssa Gregory

emailIn my last post, I took a stance against inbox zero. The truth is, I want into the club, but I will never make it. I just don’t have the time or energy to make email such a big focus in my day. But that doesn’t mean I’m destined to a life of email abuse. In fact, there are a number of other ways to manage email. Here are some options that just may work for you.

Wild, Untamed, Crazy Email

If you have an inbox with a few hundred messages and a close relationship with your search functionality, then you are probably already a member of the wild and crazy email camp. This group ditches the focus on reading, responding and removing email and moves to an “as-needed” basis. You may scan and act on incoming messages quickly, but you tend to let your inbox go wild, and use the search to find what you need.

Functional and Multi-Purpose Email

For some, an email inbox doubles as a to-do list. Followers of this philosophy use their email to track and prioritize their daily activities. You can do this by having a method for acting on all incoming messages immediately, and using flags and filters to sort and organize your lists. Completing tasks is as simple as archiving the message and moving onto the next one.


Extracted and Reorganized Email

If you use your email inbox as a place of limbo where information has to wait until it is dealt with appropriately, you fit right into the extract and reorganize group. People in this group typically have some sort of separate project/task management system where action items received via email are dropped in and added to a rolling list. This group, when they have converted each email into a standalone item in their task management system, tends to have the ability to get close to inbox zero, even if they don’t stay there for very long.

Anti-Email Email Management

If you hate email, the anti-email management system might be a good fit for you. Anti-email club members read and review incoming email as necessary, but rarely use it as a method of return communication. These email-haters take the information they need from email and move the line of communication to a format that suits them better, such as telephone or IM.

Choose Your Own Email Adventure

I wish there was a simple one-size-fits-all solution to email drain, but there isn’t. In fact, figuring out how to manage your email effectively can be a pretty personal process. Take me, for example. I subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) desire inbox zero, but accept that it’s not realistic for me, so I have my own system which is a combination of an email-based to-do list and an extracted and reorganized process…and it works for me.

The bottom line is that there are solutions to managing email. You just have to find the one that works for you at a given time, with your current time constraints, needs and goals.

How do you manage your email? Do you have a strategy that can change the way we look at email management?

Image credit: gasman40

  • SL

    I’m an underwriter for an insurance company. A few months ago I started a new email management system, which is working brilliantly for me. Anytime I receive a new submission I create a folder in my email program, when an email comes in related to that file I deal with it then drop it in its own folder. I also have a few folders for other work projects and one titled Important. By doing this I have gotten to Inbox Zero and at the end of most days it’s empty. The biggest key has been to create saved searches for all message from the last 1 day and 7 days, which allows me to pull up all recent messages and make sure I didn’t file something before dealing with it.

    I’ve also created a folder for tasks named Distraction, any distractions that come up throughout the day go in this folder and I attempt to empty it by the end of the day. I’m not on empty yet but getting there.

    When you’re busy you have to be anal retentive about organization.

  • If one needs help or tips for even organizing his emails maybe it’s better to pass the login info to someone else with some ability to think.

  • My strategy is a two-parter. First step: Convince my boss to buy a BaseCamp account for the department. Done! Second, harder step: Convince all my co-workers to use it. Still working on that one.

  • @SL – Love the idea of the “distraction” folder. I have one I call “stuff.” :)

    @moosetoga – Ahhh, the struggle of getting buy-in. I can only imagine how needing to get coworkers on the same page intensifies the struggle. Sometimes I’m happy to work alone!

  • Don Schaffner

    Yes, I have a strategy. It’s called empty my inbox every 24 to 48 hours.

    I don’t leave my mail in the mailbox, why would I treat email any different?

  • Joel Esler

    I believe you are still missing the point. The point in Inbox Zero is to become a “decider” and a “do-er” instead of an email processor. You receive email, you make a decision about it’s purpose, either A) Respond right now if it takes less than 2 minutes, B) If it takes longer than two minutes, Put it into a folder to reply later, C) Make a TODO to DO the thing that is in the email, and save the email, or D) Delete it.

    Is the email that is sitting in my inbox right now, that I am staring at, actionable? Do I need to physically do something with the information that is front of me? Yes? Make to-do todo it, then DO it. No? Either file it, or delete it.
    Follow this process until you hit ZERO emails in your inbox.
    Then CLOSE your email. CLOSE it. And go DO the things that you made todo’s to, do.
    Even if those todo’s involve answering the email that you put into a folder under “B”, you need to DO them. Only check email about twice or three times a day, and you will be much more productive.
    The point in Inbox zero is to process to ZERO, then CLOSE the inbox for the time being and GO CREATE. GO CREATE YOUR WORK BEING DONE.
    Then, later, open it back up.

  • I think you hit on some good points here, especially the part about “choosing your own adventure”. It is necessary to have a system for email management, but there is not really a one-size-fits-all solution. The best thing to do is to create your own strategy for dealing with email and stick to it!

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